A while back a co-worker told me that while driving around in the car scanning radio stations, she inadvertently landed on the classical channel. “What is that?” her four year old daughter wanted to know. “Oh, that’s opera,” she said, skipping onward. “No, no, turn it back!” the little girl demanded. So they listened to opera in the car.
When they got home, the girl made her try to find more opera on the radio.
I thought this was a nice story, so when I got home I created a CD that I called “Opera for Princesses” – mostly a hit parade of soprano arias – that I thought a four year old might enjoy. (Mind you, I have high expectations of four year olds.)
Here’s the playlist:
1. “O mio babbino caro,” Gianni Schicchi, by Giacomo Puccini (Renata Tebaldi)
2. “Viens, Mallika” (‘Flower Duet’), Lakmé, by Leo Delibes (Mady Mesplé & Danielle Millet)
3. “Sempre libera,” La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Renata Scotto)
4. “Habañera,” Carmen, by Georges Bizet (Tatiana Troyanos)
5. “Mesicku na nebi hlubokem,” Rusalka, by Antonin Dvorak (Gabriela Benackova)
6. “Quando m’en vo,” La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini (Kiri te Kanawa)
7. “Mi chiamano Mimi,” La Bohème, by Giacomo Puccini (Angela Gheorghiu)
8. “Der Hölle Rache,” Die Zauberflöte, by W. A. Mozart (Edda Moser)
9. “Vissi d’arte,” Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini (Maria Callas)
10. “Je veux vivre,” Roméo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod (Ruth Ann Swenson)
11. “Caro nome,” Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi (Daniela Lojarro*)
12. “Liebestod,” Tristan und Isolde, by Richard Wagner (Hildegard Behrens)
13. “D’Oreste, d’Ajace,” Idomeneo, by W. A. Mozart (Carol Vaness)
14. “Un bel di,” Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini (Mirella Freni)
15. “Glitter and be Gay,” Candide, by Leonard Bernstein (Dawn Upshaw)
16. “Non più mesta,” La Cenerentola, by Gioachino Rossini (Cecilia Bartoli)
So, yeah, not all the subject material here is appropriate for preschool-age children, I’ll grant you that, and it’s possibly not the most diverse range of music I could have come up with, but I was aiming for things that were tuneful yet also conveyed a sense of drama without needing context. I also imagined the girl, some years from now, listening to a commercial or seeing a movie and thinking, “Hey…I know that!” (We can debate my choice of singers…but I stand by them.)
I ran into the co-worker again today, who had an update for me. Apparently the little girl listens to the CD every night. Last night they went to check on her, and she was crying.
“What’s wrong?” her mom wanted to know.
“This song makes me sad,” the girl replied.
* Y’all probably have never heard of Daniela Lojarro, and I haven’t really, either. It’s from one of those budget LaserLight CD’s, but it’s the most amazing recording of “Caro nome,” if you can find it. She takes the high E-natural at the end, floats it effortlessly and manages a flawless diminuendo into nothingness.